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Inside the CDC Lab

Labs at the CDC


The Rabies Section at the CDC is located in a special biocontainment building. Labs at the CDC have four levels of safety, or biosafety levels (BSLs). Different diseases require work at different levels of safety. For example, the Ebola virus is studied in the Biosafety Level 4 lab because it is a very dangerous virus with no available vaccine. The rabies lab is generally a Biosafety Level 2. Some rabies work is done at Biosafety Level 3. Although rabies is a serious disease, there is a vaccine available for it.  The best way to test for rabies is to get a sample from brain tissue. Here an animal brain has been removed and will be examined for testing.  Only trained staff can extract the brains.

 Bat necropsy

Bat necropsy-- A "necropsy" is an examination of a dead animal. It helps us understand the cause of death and learn more about the disease. Here a bat that died of rabies is examined. Important tissues like the brain and salivary glands will be removed and studied.


This machine is called a Cryostat. It cuts frozen sections of tissue for rabies testing. Here the machine cuts a skin tissue sample from a person who may have rabies. The sectioned tissue will be tested by fluorescent antibody staining to see if the patient has rabies.


Scientist looking into microscope

The FA (or fluorescent antibody test) is used in labs to diagnose rabies. This microscope uses a special light to see tissue infected with rabies virus. A tissue sample is covered with a special antibody and dye that lights up when rabies is present.

electron microscope

Computers help a lot in the work on the rabies virus.





sectioning tissue samples

This machine cuts a tissue sample into very thin sections. This tissue is "fixed" with a liquid called formalin. Formalin preserves tissue from decay so it can be used later. Sections of brain and other tissue will then be tested for rabies. 



biological safety hood

Lab workers have to be very careful when working with deadly viruses. This scientist works under a biological safety cabinet or "hood." Air flows in to the hood instead of out into the lab. The lab worker also wears a protective gown and gloves when working with infectious materials. 


Lab worker

A scientist uses a pipette to measure a small amount of a sample. The sample is squirted into a tube and then tested for rabies.



Lab worker

A scientist looks at cells infected with rabies virus through a microscope.




EIS officer

The CDC gets thousands of phone calls each year about possible rabies exposures. Many of these calls are answered by EIS Officers. The EIS or "Epidemic Intelligence Service" is part of the CDC. EIS Officers are disease detectives who conduct health investigations and do research in public health.  Besides helping the state health departments in rabies diagnosis, the CDC also performs research on the different kinds of rabies viruses, how these viruses cause illness, and how the disease can be prevented.

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Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch (VRZB)
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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Rabies Section MS G-33
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30333

This page last reviewed February 6, 2002

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Deparment of Health and Human Services

US Department of Health
and Human Services

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